Thursday, April 09, 2009

Bernal's "Black Athena" published in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia(FYROM)

Anthony Davis, quoted in Lock that” If somebody uses tradition as a way of limiting your choices in away that's as racist as saying you have to sit at the back of the bus.” This quote is suit to Slav Macedonians of the FYROM that adopted Macedonism [1] as ideology and now promote the book of Martin Bernal known as “Black Athena”, a work that contribute the Afrocentrism.[2][3]

Volume 1 from Bernal series has been translated in the Slav Macedonian language and an official presentation take place today in the “Book Affair” at Skopje (FYROM) which will be attended by Slav Macedonians politicians, academics and media personalities and academics. Bernal in his books proposed a radical reinterpretation of the roots of classical civilization, contending that ancient Greek culture derived from Egypt and Phoenicia and that European scholars have been biased against the notion of Egyptian and Phoenician influence on Western Civilization.[4]

In 1990, an issue of the American Journal of Archaeology comprised a number of articles on the book and the questions it raises. The most extended, so far has been the collection of responses and reactions in the book Lefkowitz/Rogers [5]. Several authors and experts in a variety of disciplines, including archaeology and linguistics as well as history and classics, with 20 articles criticize Bernal's views. In the conclusion to the volume, the editors propose an entirely new scholarly framework for understanding the relationship between the cultures of the ancient Near East and Greece and the origins of Western civilization. Also the contributors to this volume argue that Bernal's claims are exaggerated and in many cases unjustified.

Below is a abstract of Von Thomas Shmitz paper with the title “Ex Africa lux? Black Athena and the debate about Afrocentrism in the US” that present the whole history as regards Martin Bernal views and the objections that raised from US academic community. The overwhelming majority of academic responses to Bernal's book, while acknowledging its importance as a catalyst of renewed interest in the questions it raises, pointed out that its main theses were deeply flawed. As Smitz point out what follows is just a selection of the most serious critical objections raised against Black Athena.[6]

— The part of Bernal's arguments that has met with almost unanimous disapproval was his linguistic evidence, especially his Egyptian etymologies for numerous Greek nouns and names. Critics pointed out that his supposed derivations are most often based on nothing but vague resemblances. Even if we admit that (conscious or unconscious) prejudice has led earlier scholars to underestimate the real number of Semitic borrowings and that conclusive proof cannot be attained in the slippery field of etymology, it remains true that Bernal disregards the most elementary rules of linguistic developments. Accordingly, the judgment of trained linguists is harsh: "No effort is made to go beyond the realm of appearances; known and inferable facts about the history of individual forms are systematically ignored, misrepresented, orsuppressed." Bernal's linguistic evidence, which he himself says is a keystone of his argument (Bernal [1987] 62), is thus void.

— Bernal's use of ancient documents, especially of Greek mythological narratives, is deeply flawed. On the one hand, his construction of an "ancient model" of Egyptian colonization and influence in which "the Greeks" are said to have believed, is simplifying to the point of misleading readers unacquainted with the sources. Greek beliefs about the origin of their own culture were various and contradictory, and different authors or groups constructed versions that fit their individual argumentative needs. Bernal's method consists in arbitrarily taking into account only versions that seem to support his thesis and disregarding conflicting ones. This becomes particularly clear in the case of Danaus, whose myth is fundamental to Bernal's argument. Bernal often mentions that "the Greeks" told stories about Danaus's flight from Egypt, his arrival in Argos and his accession to the throne (Bernal [1987] 75-98; 2.137-8, 502-4 and passim). He interprets this myth as preserving memories of a Hyksos colonization of Greece. However, he fails to mention that in these narratives, Danaus is of Greek descent: he is a great-great-grandson of Io, daughter of the Argive king Inachus. In Aeschylus's tragedy The Suppliants, Danaus and his daughters emphasize this Greek origin to support their claim for protection from the king of Argos (274-326, see especially 274-5 "To cut a long story short: we claim to be of Argive extraction"). Bernal's partial summary of the myth is thus deceptive.

— This selective use of ancient documents demonstrates the absurdity of Bernal's polemic against nineteenth-century source criticism, which he often (e.g., Bernal [1987] 118, 377; 2.200, 237, 308, 309) disparages as Besserwissen. Bernal goes so far as to assert that "the cultural, racial and temporal arrogance or Besserwissen of the critical method [.] has been a bane to the writing of history ever since" the early nineteenth century (Bernal [1987] 306). Yet Bernal himself obviously cannot accept the totality of the ancient documents; he has to differentiate between what he deems more or less credible, or, as he would probably say, more orless useful to his argument. He lays strong emphasis on the myth of Danaus, which he interprets as pointing to an Egyptian origin of Greek culture, yet he virtually ignores the myth of Pelops, who was described as coming from Asia minor and would thus symbolize "that Greece was colonized from the northwest corner of the Asiatic seabord." When ancient sources do not fit his argument, Bernal is ready to criticize them in the spirit of Besserwisserei that he usually decries. For instance, the Egyptian historian Manetho is said to have "garbled" and "confused" several pharaohs (Bernal [1991] 196); his account is said to be "internally inconsistent and of only very limited value for this period" (Bernal [1991] 325); the Greek historian Diodorus Siculus is said to have misunderstood Herodotus's account because of its linguistic ambiguity (Bernal [1991] 202)—thus Bernal believes he knows Greek better than a native speaker of the language. Hence, Bernal's critics are indubitably right when they denounce his repudiation of source criticism and historical methodologies as self-contradictory. What his strategy amounts to is a return to the uncritical antiquarianism of earlier historians and a collection of fragments which suit the present purpose while everything else is neglected.

— These flaws are especially prominent in Bernal's treatment of myths as historical sources. In general, he seems entirely convinced that myths can be read as reliable traditions of historical events and social structures, and he is inclined to accept even late sources: e.g., Bernal [1991] 173 a passage in the Greek writer Aelian (second century CE) is said to preserve correct information about a cult of the fourth millennium BCE, an "instructive example of the strength and durability of traditions over this huge expanse of time." When it is more convenient for his argument, however, Bernal dismisses Greek traditions because "the Greeks had no long-term cultural memory" (Bernal [1991] 319). Again, the absence of any historical methodology makes for an ahistorical eclecticism that has only rhetorical value.]

— Bernal's treatment of modern scholarship is as indiscriminate as his use of ancient documents. His sweeping generalizations ignore the discussions, controversies and doubts of historians, philologists, archeologists and philosophers about the origin and originality of Greek culture that had existed at almost every period of European scholarship. Neither was the "Ancient Model" as undisputed before the nineteenth century as Bernal implies, nor did all Europeans after 1800 accept the claims of "racial science" or believe in the inferiority of non-whites. It is certainly true that Bernal's "failure to recognize this variety" is a serious flaw of Black Athena. His own first-hand knowledge of the most important texts of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century European historiography, philosophy and political theory is so meager that his generalizations rest on very shaky ground. Hence, Marchand/Grafton are justified in their harsh judgment about his contribution to the history of scholarship: "Bernal simply has not done enough work to deserve respect or attention as a historian of European thought about the ancient world. The ability to make noise entitles no one to a hearing, and up to now, Bernal has made noise, not historical argument." This is especially true in the field of classical studies. It is simply not true that scholars have been as stubborn in their refusal to acknowledge Oriental influences on Greek culture as Bernal thinks they have been. Suffice it to mention just a few: F. Dornseiff in Germany, W. Burkert in Switzerland and M. L. West in Great Britain have been publishing well-known works about the interrelations between Middle¬and Near-Eastern cultures and Greece for a long time. If these scholars do not see Egypt as a decisive influence on Greece, this is certainly not due to any kind of prejudice, let alone racism, but reflects the evidence of our archeological, historical, and literary documents.

— Lastly, Bernal never states clearly whether his "Aryan Model" is due to a vast, worldwide conspiracy of classicists with the aim of suppressing the truth about the origin of ancient Greek culture or whether earlier scholars were merely influenced by the prejudices and beliefs of their times without actively manipulating the evidence. We will see shortly that Bernal's failure to make this crucial distinction is not coincidental—rather, it amounts to a demagogic manipulation of his readers.
Bernal book was voted one of the worst top 50 books of the 20th century.
[1]- Macedonism is an attempt by the Slav Macedonians (FYROM and diaspora) to discredit the ancient Macedonians ethnicity, break the connection between present-day Greek Macedonians and the Macedonians of antiquity, and establish a connection between FYROM’s Slavs with ancient Macedonia. The historically, linguistically and archaeologically incorrect challenge is that the historical Macedonia was never part of Greece and the Macedonians were Slavs who spoke a language in comprehensible to the other Greeks and similar to modern Slav Macedonian.
[2]- Symposium by SMK/WMC, 7-9 April 2009, Skopje, FYROM.
[3]- Afrocentrism, is a extreme diffusionist ideology who argue that black Egypt—and sometimes black Africa—was the sole intellec­tual catalyst for the development of most subsequent civilizations, no matter how geographically remote the latter may have been.
[4]- Martin Bernal, Black Athena, The Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilization, 4 Volumes.
[5]- Lefkowitz/Rogers, Black Athena Revisited, 1996. Also read the “White Athena” by Walter Slack.
[6]- Bibliography and notes that support these objections located in the paper.

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